2013 Kume Island Festival Day 1
Every year, Kume Island hosts a two-day festival in August, usually right before the Okinawan obon holidays. This year, the festival took place on August 18th and 19th. While many of the events, booths, and entertainments were similar to last year, this year marked the return of the giant tug-o-war. For a bit of the history, skip down to the More on Kume Festival section.
|16:00-17:15||Young Live – High School performance|
|18:10-18:15||Kume Island Character Reveal|
|18:15-18:25||Festival Poster Awards|
|18:30-18:35||Festival Chairman Greetings|
|20:40-21:30||Saturday Night Concert- Saiyama Shoten|
War? Yes please.
The giant tug-o-war is a symbolic competition that acts as offering, entertainment, and community building. This year, after 13 years the competition has returned along with the pageantry and traditions surrounding its use on Kume Island. Two teams of over one hundred people each worked to prepare costumes, props, and performances for the event, many practicing for more than a month.
Before the festival began, a ceremony was performed for the giant rope. Local leaders made offerings of sake, rice, and salt, which was poured directly on the 5 ton rope to be used later in the evening. Afterward the festival was begun with a firework blast. A special performance by a very energetic dance group from a college in Hokkaido followed soon after. They used long robes to simulate waves and other items, and shocked quite a few people when the men ended up in little more than a loin cloth at the end.
After the dancing was a character show, a masked rider type program for the kids, and awards for best posters by locals students. While those events went on, the two groups began a symbolic and ritualized war. Divided by geography, East and West started at the far ends of the local Furiai Park. The teams rallied with conch-shell horns, karate and kobudo demonstrations, and manipulation of giant standards. The towering poles weighed nearly 50kg and were hefted by individuals and teams in various patterns as both offering and symbolic intimidation of the other ‘army.’ Along with the standards, a large team of men carried a platform with three Ryukyu warriors, the team’s heroes.
Once the initial festival events were over, the two armies began working their way to the center of the park. At each step the two sides traded demonstrations of prowess with many karate masters performing katas with weapons, small firecrackers, horn blowing, gongs, and other noise to simulate battle. When the two sides finally met, there were final karate and kabudo demonstrations and the two platforms of warriors were brought together. They ‘fought’ and then were finally separated.
After both teams left the area, the two ends of the rope were connected and held together by a giant wooden pin. Instead of a single rope, numerous side ropes stretched from the main line to allow many people to join in. Hundreds of locals and visitors joined onto the two sides and with a 5 minute time limit, the war began. The teams were cheered on by their warriors, who helpfully stood on the rope. This year, the East team won.
After the war was over, all festival goers were invited to take part of the rope hope as a souvenir. The entire rope consisted of many strands tied or coiled together so nearly everyone could take a bit home. I found a decent strand that fit around my hat very nicely.
During the entire evening the park was surrounded by booths selling food and drinks and games for the kids. There was also the “Amida Kuji” a type of raffle where you buy a ticket, go to a board and pick a number. The person randomly follows an amida ladder up to an envelop which has a note in it. If you don’t play the amida kuji, you aren’t entered in the raffle for the big prizes the next day. In the envelop you might get only a simple prize like a box of plastic baggies or cookies, or you could get a number which corresponds to a much larger prize, such as a goat or other useful household item.
After the tug-o-war there was a eisa performance by a local group and then a concert by Saiyama Shoten, a 3-man group. The night ended with the traditional firework show.
More on the Kume Festival
To understand the importance of the return of the tug-o-war, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the island’s modern history. During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, Kume Island was split into two magiri (districts). Both Gushikawa and Nakazato were separately administered and the different areas didn’t always get along. Even now, some small areas still hold resentments against other areas. Still, as time passed the island grew in prosperity due to its rich water reserves which enabled bountiful rice cultivation. In modern times, the two magiri became villages and the battles of old became part of a symbolic communal event that brought people together in a positive way.
Festivals are a time of both celebration and offering for the harvest and health of the year. At the Kume festival each area prepared their offerings by way of karate, kabudo, and other demonstrations. Each area had to work together to prepare, and the fact the other area was doing the same created a competitive spirit which helped to motivate people.
Ten years ago, the two villages became Kumejima Town. Since then, more of the island activities have been focused on island unity, though several smaller festivals such as obon and hari still occur in local areas. Since then, the festival has grown and modernized, but the difficult traditional events were nearly lost. Along the way, the motivational force and community building aspects of the giant tug-o-war and its associated activities have been lost.
Until this year.
The return of the tug-o-war was only possible due to the kind assistance of the people of Yonaguni, who created the rope used at the festival. They tirelessly worked to create the 5ton rope (in two sections) that was used.